A carved bone suggests that Neanderthals had a certain sense for art

A carved bone suggests that Neanderthals had a certain sense for art

A carved giant deer bone adds to previous clues about Neanderthals' abilities to think abstractly, but some experts doubt it's all their own thing

(image: @ NatureEcoEvo / Twitter) There are always more evidence that our ancient Neanderthal cousins ​​were capable of symbolic thinking. A giant deer bone of over 50,000 years ago, found in the Unicorn Cave in Germany, would have been carved for aesthetic purposes: an art form that joins the cave paintings and other artifacts prior to the arrival of Homo sapiens. in Eurasia.

An artistic artefact

As reported in the study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, on the basis of radiocarbon dating the bone of a giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus, a now extinct species believes it was 2 meters high at the withers and with a horn stage that could reach 3.5 meters in width) dates back to about 51 thousand years ago, before the presumed arrival of Homo sapiens in the region that today corresponds to central Europe. The place of the discovery, the so-called Unicorn Cave in the Harz mountains in northern Germany, is known for having returned over time various archaeological finds traced back to communities of Homo neanderthalensis, including bones and artifacts.

A 51,000 year old giant deer toe bone engraved by Neanderthals https://t.co/Zlx4lbfuvX

Free-to-read version: https://t.co/P65nD5LdY7 pic.twitter.com/OqA0kaXYxd

- NatureEcoEvo (@NatureEcoEvo) July 6, 2021

According to the German researchers who signed the discovery, the incisions found on the animal's bone are not the result of slaughter, but represent a "clearly decorative" geometric motif: two precise series of intersecting lines made with a vertical cut and then scraped. To make the object, the Neanderthals would have boiled it first to soften it and make it easier to work with.

Influence of the Sapiens?

For some time now the idea that Neanderthals were just crude hominids with very limited cognitive faculties has been abandoned: experts agree that they had complex behavioral traits, that they cared for their fellow disabled and elderly people and had a certain cult of the dead, that they were able to produce technological tools. However, the discoveries that would testify to the complexity of the thinking of our ancient cousins ​​are still few and do not allow us to get a precise idea of ​​their actual capabilities.

Although for German researchers radiocarbon dating of the bone of giant carved deer witnesses its manufacture before any contact with the Sapiens and therefore constitutes a proof of the level of complexity of the cognitive abilities of the Neanderthals, some experts doubt that the Neanderthals were able to elaborate abstract and symbolic thoughts independently and that artifacts ornaments and paintings attributed to them are the result of influences on the part of Homo sapiens.

“The archaeological finds of artistic engravings are rare and, in some cases, ambiguous. Evidence of artistic decorations would suggest the production or modification of objects for symbolic reasons beyond mere functionality, adding a new dimension to the complex cognitive capacity of Neanderthals ", writes Silvia Bello from the Natural History Museum in London, in an article accompanying the publication of the study in Nature. And he adds: “The choice of the material, its preparation before carving and the skilful technique used for engraving are all indicative of sophisticated expertise and great skill in the processing of bones”.

However, recent studies Genetics show that Neanderthals and Sapiens interbred before 50,000 years ago, and given this early exchange of genes, an equally early exchange of knowledge between modern human populations and Neanderthals cannot be ruled out. "The possibility of a knowledge acquired by modern man does not underestimate, in my opinion, the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals", writes Bello again: "On the contrary, the ability to learn, integrate innovation into one's culture and adapt to new technologies and abstract concepts should be recognized as an element of behavioral complexity ".

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